Every third house stood empty. The crumbling market square boasted only a handful of people selling their wares. A filmy gauze of sadness, like the heat haze, draped around the Roma mahala as a constant reminder that more goodbyes were coming.
Last year, I wrote about the town of Lom in northern Bulgaria—an area where the very first Roma church in Bulgaria began around 1908. Even in a year and a half, I noticed a dramatic change as to how many people have left to seek jobs in Germany.
“There are no jobs. And even if you have a job it would only pay you 200 euros a month.”
This was the constant refrain heard in the mahala as some discuss their imminent plans to leave for Germany, and others pray that they can stay. These are people whose parents have grown up here as well as themselves. Familial and relational structures that have stood for decades are being severed by the knife of survival.
One man, fluent in English and passable in German told me he had seen a documentary claiming that 2 billion euros have come into Bulgaria from people working outside and sending money back. He himself is planning on leaving in the next few months.
The Pentecostal church, started years ago, has been severely hit by the exodus. Once a church of around 1000, it now has around 200-300 left in the church. The pastor, a man who dances to Roma christian music every time he drove us in his car, at times seemed discouraged and burdened with the shifting demographics. How to continue investing in a community when everyone is leaving? The pastor told us that hopelessness drives some to drugs and desperation drives others to tragic pursuits, most heartrendingly seen by the young women who line the road to Lom.
Still, new life is happening on the other end. The Pentecostal mother church now has four baby churches in four German cities, all born out of the dispersed community of Lom.
“Some who go are not believers, but when they are in Germany, they seek out their own people, and if it is the Christians, they often convert,” one of the church leaders told me. “Some even are freed from drugs while they are there.”
This doesn’t really seem a sustainable economic long term situation for Europe, but this movement of peoples, a common theme, will certainly create new Roma churches in Western Europe. The outcome of this? Too soon to say, but it is certainly something to watch.
Often in history, we can recognize that God uses the movement of peoples to do something new.
Christians are leaving Lom—but that also means Christians are arriving somewhere else. I certainly felt the sadness, but there is still more than enough joy to celebrate in Lom when the situation calls for it.